I’ve always wanted to help people who don’t know about autism find out about it in a simple, no frills way. This new series will hopefully do just that. The first installment is the most critical piece of dealing with autism, at least in my mind. When you meet someone with autism or aspergers, presume intelligence. By that I mean do not lower your expectations. Do not assume that because this person cannot speak, or speak well, he or she cannot think, feel or reason. Make no assumptions about a person with autism that you would not make about a typical person.

This seems like fairly common sense advice. After all, when I meet someone I do not assume their level of competence based upon their skin color, gender, accent, hair color, the way they dress or by the number of piercings or tattoos they display. That would be foolish. For some reason, though, when we meet people with disabilities that simple respect goes out the window.

Some of it may have to do with the disorder. Many folks with autism flap their hands, blink their eyes, recite movies tv shows verbatim or do one of a hundred other forms of self stimulation. “Stims” are common in our world, and those of us who live with folks on the spectrum tend to tune them out.

Another reason probably has to do with the simple medical discrimination that most people have on a subconscious level. The pseudologic seems to go something like this: “That person has a medical issue = They are sick + They can’t do as much as I can do.” Its sort of a contrapositive method of discrimination. I see it often and have argued it with several people, but it seems almost invisible.

Regardless of the reason for thinking folks on the spectrum can do less, I’m asking you to stop doing it. Take a minute the next time you meet someone on the spectrum keep in mind the difference between appearance and reality. Seen by itself, the internal combustion engine seems like an unwieldy and noisome creation. Once you sit behind the wheel of a modern automobile you know that those are not the only characteristics it has, nor is the appearance the only thing of value.

I also want to remind teachers not to lower your expectations for our folks on the spectrum. My son amazes me every day with the level of intelligence he displays, and if I had lowered my expectations early he would have suffered. Anticipate success, feed minds and teach hope. Presume intelligence.